By Cyndi Lauper
The following essay is part of a series in which dozens of women will reveal what women they most admire. The series is part of “Women Rule,” a unique effort this fall by POLITICO, Google and The Tory Burch Foundation exploring how women are leading change in politics, policy and their communities.
In 1987, the people of San Francisco elected an Italian-American, Catholic mother of five to represent them in Congress. In her first speech on the House floor, California’s new congresswoman astonished her colleagues and people across our country by daring to utter an unmentionable word: “AIDS.” With that speech, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi revealed exactly what she is: fearless.
At a time when our leaders, neighbors and friends wanted to stay silent, she shook our conscience by shining a light on the terrible epidemic that was taking the lives of so many gay and bisexual men.
For the past 26 years, leader Pelosi has refused to let our country renege on our promise of equality for the LGBT community.
She spearheaded the passage of a fully inclusive hate crimes bill that was signed into law by President Barack Obama. She brought about the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a law that forced proud patriots to hide who they were from the people they protect.
She led House Democrats in fighting the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act in the courts, and she fought to make sure that LGBT family ties are recognized in our immigration system so same-sex, binational couples would not have to face the heartbreak of deportation.
It was the issue of LGBT youth homelessness that led me to Capitol Hill in May 2012 and the chance to meet with leader Pelosi for the first time. We had a discussion as two moms, not as a politician and a celebrity, about how gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender kids who come out to family and friends are all too often rejected.
Our growing friendship started that day and as mothers, it kills us both to think of any kid having to bear that kind of isolation and pain. It is this rejection that has led to 40 percent of all homeless youth identifying as gay or transgender, while only 7 percent of the youth population does the same. Think of that discrepancy. It’s staggering. Thrown out or being forced out of your home for being who you are.
Since Day One of her time in Congress, she has dramatically increased America’s investment in research, treatment and preventive care for those who suffer from HIV/AIDS.
She embodies the mission that we fulfill every day at the True Colors Fund, an organization dedicated to engaging everyone — gay and straight alike — in raising awareness of what it’s like to be gay in America and to addressing the epidemic of homelessness among LGBT youth.
And that is why it makes all the difference in the world to have a mother, a grandmother and a renowned leader stand up and demand that we love and respect all of our children as equals.
That is her gift: a courage that never fails in the fight for a more equal America — not only for the LGBT community but for every woman, as well.
Even in 2013, 50 years after we passed the Equal Pay Act, women still make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes in the same job.
This kind of discrimination doesn’t just devalue the work of millions of women, it makes it that much harder for mothers to support their children.
As Americans, we must do something to address this inequality — and, once again, leader Pelosi is rising to the challenge with the economic agenda, “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds.”
From paycheck fairness to paid sick leave to affordable child care, this economic agenda will make it easier for a hardworking woman to make the most of everything she has to offer.
That’s a bold plan to make the basic right of equality a reality for millions of women.
To every person who is worried or wearied by the pace of our progress, I am telling you: Don’t be discouraged. We have a friend in Congress who is fighting to improve our lives and make sure our voices are heard.
For every human being who hopes to be accepted for who they are, leader Pelosi is willing to move mountains to make that happen — without hesitation, without question, without fear and we all are the better for it.
Cyndi Lauper is a Grammy, Emmy and Tony Award-winning artist, New York Times best-selling author and co-founder of the True Colors Fund.